The United States and four other nations signed onto an international plan to fight piracy off the coast of Somalia, committing Wednesday to playing a leadership role in protecting one of the world's busiest shipping routes.
The so-called "New York Declaration" signed by US Deputy Ambassador Rosemary DiCarlo and her counterparts from Britain, Cyprus, Japan and Singapore is an attempt to pool resources and agree on the best ways of deterring the Somali pirates who prey on vessels passing between Europe and Asia.
"We realize that the fight against piracy in the Horn of Africa region cannot be solved entirely at sea," DiCarlo said. Other needed measures, she said, involve nations adopting legal mechanisms to prosecute suspected pirates and Somalia improving its capacity to police its own territory.
Though it is a nonbinding political document, proponents say it will commit ship registry nations to adopt "best management practices" for ship security such as increased lookouts, raised ladders and emergency fire pumps readied to repel boarders.
It was first proposed in May by Panama, the Bahamas, Liberia and the Marshall Islands, four of the world's biggest ship registries. Those nations signed the declaration previously.
In Washington, Andrew Shapiro, the assistant secretary of state for political-military affairs, told the ComDef 2009 defence policy conference on Wednesday that the document represents what Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has called "a 21st century solution to the 17th century problem" of piracy.
Clinton said during a visit in August to Nairobi, Kenya, that the US would provide more aid for Somalia, which is home to terrorists, drug smugglers and Islamist extremists.
By signing, the United States says the Coast Guard and US shipping companies will continue adopting measures to protect themselves against piracy that comply with the International Ship and Port Facility Security Code.
A group of almost 40 nations and international organizations including the US, China, Britain and France planned to gather Thursday at UN headquarters in New York for their fourth major session on deterring Somali piracy.
They are meeting to discuss how best to coordinate international naval patrols and other security measures and how to discourage the secretive payments to pirates who often demand and receive multimillion dollar ransoms.
Another item drawing attention is cooperation on interdiction and prosecution of suspected pirates.
Somalia's lawless coastline and 18-year civil war makes it a haven for pirates. Sailors typically are released from their captured vessels only after payment of a ransom. Somali pirates captured more than 100 ships last year, and attacks have increased this year.
DiCarlo said there have been 138 pirate attacks off the Horn of Africa so far this year, of which 33 have succeeded. But the safety practices that the US and other nations are promoting "contributed to preventing many of the other criminal assaults from succeeding," she said.